Psychiatry Associates Blog

Bipolar Disorder: The Importance of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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As early as the first century, Ancient Greeks observed that there were those who were prone to episodes of “mania” or “melancholia.”  Of course, it would take centuries more before these episodes were given names (first manic-depressive and then bipolar disorder).  And, it would be decades beyond that before mental health professionals would be able to identify the full range of the bipolar spectrum.

Fortunately, after years of clinical research, our knowledge today of bipolar disorders is greater than ever.  We better understand the underlying causes, the many ways in which the condition may manifest, as well as the most effective options for treatment.  We know that prescription drugs such as mood-stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, and/or antidepressants are useful, but we also realize that they only represent one part of an effective treatment plan. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of goal-oriented psychotherapy that focuses on changing the behaviors and thought patterns that may be contributing to a patient’s difficulties.  To some degree, our tendency toward particular types of thought is inherent, being based in factors such as genetics and childhood experiences.  However, this does not mean that these patterns of thought cannot be changed.  Each patient simply needs to be given the tools to recognize, observe, and redirect these thoughts, with a clear understanding of how each has the capability to influence both mood and behavior.

Throughout the process of CBT, a patient with bipolar disorder will learn several valuable skills, crucial to managing their symptoms.  These can include:

Cognitive Restructuring – This process helps patients identify thoughts that are flawed and have the potential to impact their condition negatively. Rather than allowing these thoughts to dictate emotion and behavior, CBT can instead provide the tools to observe them objectively and to act accordingly.

Problem Solving – Problems that come up in day-to-day life such as relationship troubles or job insecurities have the potential to send someone suffering from bipolar disorder into a depressed state. CBT teaches patients how to recognize the problems that are impacting them and find solutions.

Routine Stabilization – When the day is unstructured, it can inhibit the ability to prepare for what comes next. This lack of structure can lead to feelings of anxiety or stress.  Knowing what to expect at each point of the day can help keep a patient’s mood balanced.  Likewise, a structured day with a regular bed and wake up time can help prevent episodes that may be linked to sleep deprivation.

Making the Most of CBT for Bipolar Disorder

Cognitive behavioral therapy is different than the typical therapy session many envision.  CBT is a collaborative effort between patient and therapist.  Areas of concern and desired treatment goals are identified from the beginning along with a course of action.  Success depends not only on the therapist but also on the active participation of the patient in matters such as journaling or completing homework assignments. 

Research has shown that CBT is beneficial for bipolar patients, helping them achieve longer-lasting recovery.  And, the sooner it is implemented, the more effective it is proven to be.  If you are suffering from bipolar disorder, the best step you can take is to begin CBT as soon as possible. 


Topics: Bipolar Disorder